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A few weeks back I read a book “The Last Lecture.” I had the book for a couple of months, but read it only last week. The book is about the final lecture given by a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)—Randy Pausch. The CMU has the practice of asking its professors to give talks titled “The Last Lecture,” where the professors are asked to think about their death and tell the audience about the lessons they learned and pass on their wisdom.

In the case of Randy Pausch, it really was his last lecture. He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in August, 2007 and had about 2–5 months of good healthy life left. On September 18, 2007, Randy stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at CMU and delivered his last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It was a one-of-a-kind last lecture that made the world stop and pay attention. It became an Internet sensation and was viewed by billions of people from all parts of the world.

The last lecture delivered by a man who had just months to live was surprisingly not about death. It was not about coping with cancer either. It was about the importance of having dreams, overcoming obstacles, achieving one’s dreams, helping and enabling others to achieve their dreams, seizing every moment in life, etc. It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living and having fun.

While each point in the lecture is great advice, I was more impressed with Randy’s positive attitude and outlook towards life. One of his philosophies, which I also strongly believe in, is “we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Life is not a bed of roses. There will be difficulties, hardships, challenges, and failures. You cannot control that. But you can decide how you react to these. You can sulk and wallow in self-pity or you can fight back. You can fight back with the resources that you are left with. According to Randy, when odds are against you, you should stop whining and work harder. That is great advice.

Some of the other interesting points include:

  • Never make a decision until you have to.
  • Just because you’re in the driver’s seat, doesn’t mean you have to run people over.
  • You’ve got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff is not going to work.
  • When you’ve screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore that means they’ve given upon you. Your critics are often the ones telling you they still love you and care about you, and want to make you better.
  • I don’t believe in a no-win scenario!
  • Appreciate everyday and every moment.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. They keep away people who really don’t want to get in. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.
  • Not everything needs to be fixed.
  • Time must be explicitly managed like money.
  • Are you spending your time on the right things?
  • Dream big!
  • Don’t complain. Work harder.
  • Don’t obsess over what people think.
  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
  • Write thank you notes.
  • A bad apology is worse than no apology.
  • Tell the truth; all the time; truth can set you free.
  • No job is beneath you.
  • Sometimes all you have to is ask.

The thing I liked most about his attitude is that he holds no grudge. There are no ‘why me?’, ‘why now?’ questions. He accepts the fact that fate has dealt a bad card and makes every effort to live the remaining time he has to the fullest.

I think that is that attitude that we should take when we pass through bad phases in our lives. Some people are lucky and some are not. That is how ‘the world works.’ So, if you happen to be among those who are unlucky, you still can make life work for you, have fun, help others, most importantly inspire others.

Randy Pausch was a teacher and must have inspired and motivated thousands of students during his teaching career. But through a 75-minute lecture and a book based on that, he has inspired and is still inspiring millions of people worldwide. That is the power of the courage and positive attitude. That is why it is worth taking the blows and still keep fighting. That is why love and compassion for others matter.

The book even though is based on the lecture, contains a lot more. According to the author “a book allows me to cover many, many more stories from my life and the attendant lessons I hope my kids can take from them. Also, much of my lecture at Carnegie Mellon focused on the professional side of my life–my students, colleagues and career. The book is a far more personal look at my childhood dreams and all the lessons I’ve learned. Putting words on paper, I’ve found, was a better way for me to share all the yearnings I have regarding my wife, children and other loved ones. I knew I couldn’t have gone into those subjects on stage without getting emotional.” The book is really exceptional as it captures the whole range of human emotions—happiness, sadness, mental agony, helplessness, dreams, aspirations, courage, determination, hope, and so on. It is told from the author’s heart and will definitely touch the reader’s heart.

I request all of you to watch the last lecture and read the book. You will definitely gain a great deal of wisdom.

Book Details:

  • Author: Randy Pausch
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Year: 2008
  • ISBN: 9781401323257
  • Cover & Page Count: Paperback, 224 pages